Raids are conducted following laws and laws cannot be changed by a letter from a ministry, said the Home Ministry
The government’s latest directive making it mandatory for law enforcement agencies to take prior approval from the Health Ministry to conduct raids at hospitals comes as a surprise to many.
The directive comes at a time when law enforcement is unmasking irregularities in testing and treatment involving Covid-19 in Bangladesh.
The Health Ministry on Tuesday asked the Home Ministry to take prior approval and coordinate with the Health Ministry before conducting any raid, as the raids are “disrupting healthcare.”
In conversation with Dhaka Tribune, campaigners for health rights said the move is surprising and reflects the Health Ministry bowing to pressure from hospital owners.
They also raised questions on the effectiveness of a raid if prior permission is needed from the Health Ministry, and if the information gets leaked.
Legal medicine expert Muzaherul Huq expressed his utter dissatisfaction with the directive, saying that the Health Ministry made the move to cover up its failure in ensuring proper healthcare services for all.
“Those who are committing such delinquency or fraud in the name of health service [treatment or tests] will be encouraged to continue, considering the Health Ministry’s decision,” he said.
Instead of imposing restrictions, the ministry should increase the number of raids across Bangladesh, he said.
“People are being deprived of quality health services due to shaky management. There are almost 40,000 healthcare providing hospitals, clinics, and health complexes across the country, but people have no hope of proper treatment,” he continued.
“People started seeing a ray of hope after raids at Regent, JKG Hospitals, but authorities are now bowing to pressure from hospital owners,” said Muzaherul, also former regional (South Asia) advisor to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International, Bangladesh, said: “People behind this decision, or at least some of them, may have thought that the masterminds may be revealed in the process of capturing the small players, which may become risky for them.”
If they did their jobs properly, prior permissions would not be an issue, and the word raid would not instil fear in their minds, said Iftekharuzzaman in a video statement on Friday.
“The recent raids created a scope to expose the corruption in the health sector, be it in state-run or private hospitals. It is hard to consider this decision as anything other than a way to prevent that from happening”, he added.
Can the law be regulated by a letter?
The letter of request order from the Health Ministry was officially received by the Public Security Division under the Home Ministry on Thursday.
Abu Bakar Siddique, additional secretary (Political & ICT wing) of the division told Dhaka Tribune: “We respond to requests of other ministries immediately, but we are a bit confused and unclear about how we can implement this,” he said.
The additional secretary also remarked: “Law enforcement agencies are directed according to specific laws, not by such letters from a ministry. Also, the law cannot be regulated by a letter.”
What will law enforcement agencies do?
Lt Col Ashique Billah, director at Legal and Media Wing of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) told this correspondent that they were yet to be officially notified about the decision.
Once we get an official instruction, we will decide the next course of action and do our duty as per the instructions of the government, he added.
Assistant Inspector General (media) at Police Headquarters, Md Sohel Rana, told Dhaka Tribune that they will act as per the law.
Asked, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said any arrangement, instruction or notification in Covid-19 management is coming from the Health Ministry, and the Home Ministry will cooperate on any decision taken by it.
“A few organizations have been nominated for conducting Covid-19 testing. However, there are some complaints of providing fake certificates too,” he said.
The minister also said no drive will be carried out from now on without informing the Ministry of Health or DG Health.